Technology in Elementary Schools

Lakehead University
Benefits and Challenges with Implementing Technology in K-12 Canadian Classrooms
Donghyun Seok
Introduction to Academic Writing, ENGL 1015
Melinda Vandenbeld Giles
November 20, 2018
Today’s children are growing up in the digital age, which will change the way they think,
interact and perform tasks. Overall, there is an overwhelming amount of support for technology
use in classrooms with 89 percent of school leaders, 88 percent of teachers, 70 percent of
parents/guardians, and 77 percent of students expressing enthusiasm for the implementation of
technology in classrooms. Among teachers, 99 percent felt it enhanced teaching and learning, 86
percent felt it increased students’ social and intellectual engagement in the classroom, and 90
percent of teachers felt it improved student achievement (Connelly et al, 11-12). More than ever,
the “ability to access information and communication technologies (ICT) is increasingly
important to effectively participate in the economic, political and social aspects of the so-called
knowledge society” (Chen et al, 4). Therefore, it is important to prepare youth to thrive and
succeed in today’s world. This paper will discuss the benefits and the challenges that educators
face implementing technology in classrooms.
One of the main benefits of implementing technology in classrooms is increasing the
level of engagement in students. Eighty percent of students are more interested in classes where
they can use new technology and seventy-six percent believe it helps them learn and get better
grades (Connelly et al, 12). Research has shown that tablet technologies have increased
motivation and student learning in high school students. In a case study that spanned over two
years, six teachers observed 408 students over the course of sixteen separate classes. Students
used nine different applications throughout the 16 classes, with the most frequently used
applications being: Edmodo (six times), Khan Academy (four times), Videolicious (three times)
and Study Mate (twice). Other apps such as Bookabi, Google Good Editor, Near Pod, Smart
Response Notebook, and Socrative were each used once. After the sixteen classes, every teacher
believed that it improved motivation and increased student learning. Among students, 52 out of
sixty students said that they would like to use iPads more and 61 percent of students believe it
helps them with their learning (Howard and Howard, 67-72). While it is a preliminary study, it is
clear that tablets, when used correctly, can be a useful tool to engage and motivate students.
Interactive whiteboards are another example of technological devices that engage students, by
their visual, auditory and kinesthetic features. In one study, 85 teachers from 170 classrooms
used interactive whiteboards, applying three main features: the use of handheld voting devices,
the use of graphics and visuals, and the whiteboard reinforcer (applications that teachers use to
signal correct answers). Students used handheld voting devices to upload their responses to
questions and showed a 26-percentile point gain in student achievement. The use of graphics
and visuals also showed a 26-percentile point gain in student achievement. The interactive
whiteboard reinforcer was associated with a 31-percentile point gain in student achievement
(Marzano, 1).
Another useful way teachers can engage students is with educational games. In a pilot
study that consisted of 146 Grade 1 and 2 students, participants played Compare Ware (a game
that asks players to distinguish two pictures) on iPads and computers over 4 sessions of 4-40
minutes long. The findings concluded that 55 percent of participants showed improved on
recognizing differences and showed improvement in reading. Furthermore, while there was
nothing substantial on their engagement levels, the researchers did not discount the impact of
games on learning and found that Compare Ware was appealing to their participants (Jenson et
al, 8-13). In addition, teachers can have students create games to enhance learning. In a case
study, twenty-one elementary students between the ages of seven and eleven participated in a
digital game building study. The overall theme of the study was “Mission to Mars” with a focus
on learning Newton’s laws using the program called Scratch. After building games to educate
others, 16 out of 21 students reported never feeling bored or annoyed throughout the process and
feeling very proud of themselves when they finished their games. Furthermore, students enjoyed
playing and building games so much that they willing spent time outside the study to play
Scratch. Thirteen out of twenty-one students downloaded and played Scratch at home and spent
time modifying their game or making new ones. All but one student shared their experiences
with Scratch to their parents. In addition, it is clear that students learned a lot from playing and
making the games. Students enjoyed problem-solving through the challenges and all but one
student was able to explain Newton’s laws of motion by the end (Li, 431-440).
Technology has changed the way education is conducted today by shifting the focus from
lecture-style instruction to an education model where teachers are facilitators. One of the ways
teachers encourage individual learning is by providing self-learning modules, which forty
percent of teachers provide frequently or occasionally (Johnson, et al, 25). In a case study, 6,500
students in Grades K-12 from an urban reform district (URD) participated in a personalized
learning program, designed to assist low performing students. The program consisted of a
proficiency-based curriculum for regular students, while students with disabilities had an
Individualized Education Program (IEP), which was observed in 50 sessions over an 18-month
window. Students became active participants in their learning, setting and meeting their
individualized goals, while teachers supervised the students and maintained an environment
suitable for the students. More than 25 percent of students showed one or more levels of growth
in reading and mathematics by the middle of the school year (Basham et al, 129-130). By the
traditional method of teaching, students can be afraid to speak up about their need for help, as
they may think that they are progressing with the class. Technology can empower students to
take responsibility for their education and learn at their own pace.
Over 90 percent of teachers feel it is “very” or “somewhat” important to learn the digital
skills necessary to thrive in today’s world. At a closer look, 97 percent of teachers believe it is
important to teach students how to browse the web safely, 93 percent believe in teaching
appropriate online behavior and 87 percent believe it is important to learn how to verify if online
information is relevant (Johnson, et al, 49). Among school leaders who rated skill development
in their schools, many noted the huge increases in creativity and innovation (57 to 82 percent),
global citizenship (55 to 74 percent), communication and self-expression (68 to 85 percent) and
critical thinking (55 to 72 percent) (Connelly et al, 16). While technology may not be the only
factor for these improvements, it is an encouraging sign to see such levels of success with
technological implementation.
Technology has encouraged collaboration in classrooms, as 65 percent of teachers
occasionally or frequently break students into groups to match similar learning styles, with
Wikipedia or Google Docs being used 33 percent of the time (Johnson et al, 25). In a qualitative
survey, 152 K-12 teachers discussed the advantages and disadvantages of technology for peer
tutoring in-group work. Teachers listed four main benefits: building competence in technology,
building self-esteem, increasing comfort, and increasing collaboration between students. The
general theme that teachers noticed was that students “help each other to learn computer skills
that they are not very competent in” and that it provides an “opportunity for less competent
students to learn in a safe and non-threatening way” (Thompson, 236-239). Overall, teachers
viewed peer tutoring favorably, although they had to be mindful about the preparation and
accountability of the peer tutors.
Role of Technology in Benefitting Special Needs Students
Learning disabilities are the most common disability reported by Canadian children
between the ages of 5 to 14, at 69.3 percent. This amounts to 121,080 of the children between
ages 5 to 14, which is 3.2 percent of all children in this age group. Learning disabilities are
significant because many find that they are unable to keep up with their peers and become
discouraged if they do not receive enough support (Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario).
However, recent studies show that assistive technology has provided students with a way to learn
by accommodating their conditions, particularly helping with reading and writing.
Assistive Technology for Reading
Text-to-speech (TTS) is an example of an assistive technology that has benefitted
students with learning limitations by improving comprehension and reading skills. In a case
study with five Canadian students reading far below their grade level due to learning limitations,
researchers found that TTS made a big difference. During a six-week span, these students used
Kurzweil, a text-to-speech software to assist reading. Four of the five students improved half a
grade in reading level and the fifth student improved a full grade level. Every student was able to
read much faster using Kurzweil, with two of the students reading at double their normal speed
and another student reading five times as fast. Overall, all of the students had trouble with TTS
in the beginning, but became accustomed to it and experienced an increase in motivation for
reading after using TTS (White and Robertson, 1270-1274).
Furthermore, mobile e-books have been shown to improve motivation for reading. In a
case study with 30 Grade 1 students, the children were asked to compare reading experiences
when using paperback books with e-books, reading one e-book per week over a three-month
period. Before the test, thirteen students chose picture books as the preferred choice for reading.
After the test, twenty-six out of thirty students reported that they preferred e-books to printed
books. Many different reasons were listed for liking e-books, such as independence, control and
the ability to ask questions during reading. Furthermore, 16 students were never distracted when
using e-books for reading (Ciampa, 672-686). This is an astonishing result, given that young
children typically have difficulty focusing and paying attention.
Assistive Technology for Writing
IPads are useful tools to assist students who have trouble with the writing process. In a
case study with nine Canadian students (1 female, 8 male) in Grade 6, five different aspects were
evaluated: writing productivity, spelling, lexical diversity (how many different words are used),
syntactical complexity, and ideas expressed. When using iPads, students averaged 40.33 more
words, improved spelling by 15 percent, and eight out of nine students expressed more ideas
overall. The use of iPad did not show major improvements in lexical diversity and nor significant
improvement in grammatical errors (Corkett and Benevides, 17-20).
Word prediction is useful software to assist students with the writing process. In one case
study, two groups of participants used WordQ, a word prediction software, and were evaluated in
word accuracy and typing rates. One group contained 10 youths between the ages of 11 to 14,
who had 1 to 2 years of experience using WordQ. The other group consisted of 11 youths
between the ages of 10 to 18 who did not have any experience with WordQ. All participants had
neurological conditions. For the first group, mean typing rates were 9.8 wpm (words per
minutes) before the test and 11.33 wpm using the word predictor by the fifth day. Typing
accuracy for this group was 93.67 percent pretest and 99.49 percent by the fifth day. For the new
users, mean typing rates were 9.22 wpm pre-test and 8.92 after the test. Typing accuracy for this
group was 97 percent pretest and 99.7 percent after the test. Overall, both groups found WordQ
beneficial, as it enabled them to choose from a selection of predetermined words (Tam and
Wells, 107-113).
Speech-to-text (STT) is also another piece of assistive technology that benefits students
with learning limitations in writing. In a case study with three students with learning limitations,
the effectiveness of speech to text evaluated total words written, number of multisyllabic words,
and correct writing sequences. Through using STT, students showed an average increase of 70
words written, nine more multisyllabic words, and an average increase of 75 points in correct
writing sequences. This is a promising sign that students find speech to text useful for expressing
their thoughts (McCollum et al, 3-7).
Graphic organizers are another piece of assistive technology that benefits students in
writing. In a study on the effects of using a graphic organizer for narrative writing, four boys
with specific learning disabilities in fifth grade were tested. The four aspects of the test
examined: the total number of words, total minutes spent on planning, number of common story
elements, and organization. Results showed that students wrote 29.64 more words, showed a
2.18 increase in minutes spent planning, and included a 1.81 increase in story elements (2.91 to
4.75 out of 6). After the test, researchers concluded that teachers should consider graphic
organizers for students, as they can help students with their narrative writing (Gonzalez-Ledo et
al, 3-11).
Challenges with Implementing Technology in the Classroom
Lack of training and support hinders many teachers in their ability to integrate technology
in classrooms. Seventy-five percent of teachers attended between 1-20 hours of professional
development in a year, yet only 49 percent of school leaders and 45 percent of teachers believe
sufficient professional development is provided. When asked about the reasons for inadequate
professional development, teachers responded that insufficient funding and lack of time are
barriers (Connelly et al, 17). Many teachers hold the belief that professional development is the
“key to properly integrating technology into the curriculum and to ensure they can have a
positive impact in their classrooms” (Froese-Germain et al, 16). One suggestion mentioned is
providing online modules for training, as 76 percent of school leaders and 64 percent of teachers
feel this will provide teachers with access to more training that they can complete at their own
leisure (Connelly et al, 17). This is the next step to providing teachers with the proper training
they need to integrate technology in education.
Teachers also expressed a need for technological support, as they experienced unexpected
technical difficulties at inopportune times. The consensus is that technology is “sometimes more
[of a] bother than it’s worth especially when it doesn’t work. You lose a lot of instructional time
when you have technical difficulties” (Froese-Germain et al, 16). In most cases, students become
restless and are liable to cause trouble in the classroom as teachers try to fix problems. This adds
unnecessary stress to teachers who have to decide whether to try to find the solution or to adapt
by changing their lesson plan so that time is not wasted. It is important to consider that less techsavvy teachers were more likely to report distracted students, which reflects a lack of training or
awareness by teachers (Connelly et al, 19).
One of the obvious challenges for providing technology in classrooms is the cost and
pressure to buy updated technology. Today, 97 percent of classrooms have at least one piece of
technology between desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, tablets, and smart boards.
Smartboards (72 percent) are the most commonly provided network device, followed by desktop
computers (65 percent), laptops (64 percent), and finally tablets (56 percent) (Johnson et al, 4).
Despite this, only 51 percent of teachers say that they have sufficient equipment and resources
(Froese-Germain et al, 15). An obvious solution would be to spend more money on technology;
however, at a closer look, Canada’s spending on education has increased by 53.1 percent from
$38.9 billion to $59.6 billion since 2001 to 2012. K-12 enrollments have consistently declined in
every Canadian province, yet education spending per student has increased by 63.1 percent, from
$7,250 to $11,835 per student (Van Pelt and Emes, 17). One of the ways schools and teachers
work around the problem with access by implementing a BYOD (Bring your own device)
program, which 35 percent of schools have done (Connelly et al, 19). However, this leads to an
additional problem, as this can create a divide between financially prosperous students and
students in poverty. In Canada, 83 percent of all households have internet access, but only 58
percent of families living in poverty (below $30,000) have internet access (Chen et al, 7). If
students bring devices from home, this will emphasize the issue of lack of equity and cause
students to feel left out. There is no easy solution here, as the only way for equity in classrooms
to be present is to provide enough technology for all students, but it is difficult for the
government to afford the high cost of educational technology.
It is quite clear that technology in classrooms has many positive benefits such as
increasing engagement and achievement, teaching digital skills, fostering independent learning,
and empowering students with learning limitations. However, it is also clear that there is room
for improvement in implementing technology in classrooms. Teachers need to have more
opportunities for professional development and there needs to be more technology provided in
classrooms to address equity concerns. Nevertheless, recent trends are encouraging and this is a
situation worth monitoring in the future.